Diverging paths

I’m in an odd place in my social network experience.

A great many of my social network contacts (not counting the feeds I follow on Twitter) date to a time when I was an active Star Trek fan and when I was in my last venture into high technology employment. They are the people who, for whatever reason, would not or could not help to hook me up with employment when I landed hard on my ass following the dot-com crash in 2001, despite an acknowledgment, even at the time, that I would face age discrimination.

In 2003, fortified by my father’s Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) money (he had committed suicide in 2000 and his wife—not my mother—had died from, the coroner declared, an opiate overdose a few months later), but being well aware that I wasn’t actually bringing in enough money to survive, and realizing that I could not find employment that would pay the bills, I returned to school. Further, seeing a pattern in which any “hard” skills I acquired would soon be declared obsolete or the jobs exported overseas, I chose a liberal arts path, thus not only acquiring skills employers keep saying they want, but being qualified to teach those skills.[1]

My father’s ESOP money wasn’t much. I had taken a couple annual installments before his old company, the company he had worked for nearly his entire life, bought me out, for less than $90,000, and it was rapidly disappearing.

My fortunes have not improved since. But I have been in school all this time and I am now finishing up the coursework in a Ph.D. program. As I write this, I should be working on what I hope is the final essay for the final class. After this, I have two more qualifying essays for candidacy, then I will be a candidate, which means that I will be working on my dissertation.

I’ve been through a lot in the ten years I’ve been back in school, something that seems lost on much of my old social network, the same group that, ten years later, still has not helped to connect me with employment, though it should be more than apparent that I cannot find work on my own, for a variety of reasons, and that job hunting has not really worked for me in over twenty-five years, leaving me with a lot of rage and a lot of depression that one can trace back in part by reading back in this blog. I have learned a lot, not only about the value of a social network consisting largely of people who seem uncomprehending of my situation, but about how our society works, or perhaps more accurately, fails to work.

It does not help when some people tell me about “The Secret” and its “Law of Attraction,” in which all I need to do is to change my attitude and the universe will provide. This denies social reality. More than that, it immunizes those who utter it from accountability, for if I claim to change my attitude and the predicted results do not materialize, they can claim that I didn’t really change my attitude, that I continue to sabotage myself, that I didn’t try hard enough. Because I cannot prove that I was thinking or not thinking anything, I have no way to disprove such a claim, but they are freed from any social responsibility to help me. Which is very convenient in a place like Sebastopol, where I am surrounded by faux liberals, pseudo-Buddhists, and other New Agers, who are really quite satisfied with the status quo, who are materially quite well off, who continue to think Obama’s election to the presidency is a sign of progress, who have a little dead tree in front of a local coffee place where you’re supposed to attach a little note saying what you’re grateful for.

But my old friends, for whom this system of social organization still works, at least most of the time, seem to think they know better than I, that they do not need to read the essays I post on line to understand the arguments I make, that superficial noises of friendship substitute for an intellectually rigorous exchange of ideas. I am seeing an astonishing amount of stupidity on my Facebook feed and in the conversations I get into there. In frustration, I recently posted this:



I have had two people in the last 24 hours serve up stinking piles of shit as arguments. One of these, an old and dear friend, is now a repeat offender.

If you’re going to do this, I should be getting paid rather than left to twist on the vine and you should be in a freshman level class being taught basic critical thinking skills. Either that or you should be taking active steps to fulfill your social responsibility to end this stinking system of social organization that seems to think that leaving me to twist on the vine is a fine thing to do.

: : : (facebook is swallowing a paragraph break) : : :

Simply put, I expect a higher level of discourse. Especially when you have a well-paying job and won’t lift a finger to help me find one.

A higher level of discourse does not mean false equivalences, such as carrots and cows. (Honestly, I can’t make this shit up.)

A higher level of discourse does not mean blatantly false claims, the error of which can be shown in a simple Google search. Such as claiming that financial reform is unpopular. (Again, I can’t make this shit up.)

A higher level of discourse does not mean memes singing the praises of the Democratic Party without acknowledging its complicity in neoliberal/neoconservative/conservative policy, in war crimes, and in other violations of human rights, including the violations that leave me twisting on the vine. (This seems to have become the de rigeur thing to do.)

A higher level of discourse does not mean passing off management-style double-speak as anything like an intelligent thing to say. This includes nonsense such as, “I’ll look forward to seeing the results” or “change management.” That might get you somewhere in the business world. But it is an insult to my intelligence.

I am not enjoying this. I have other things to do. I have already blocked some people. More may well be blocked.

Yet, the stupidity continues. And I’m still not getting paid.

I do not know, but perhaps people think I’m being some sort of show-off or being patronizing when I post my essays on line on my research journal. Actually, no. I post my essays on line because I take Colin Robson’s advice about keeping a research journal, as a sort of audit trail of my thinking, to heart,[2] and I extend his logic a very short distance to the realization that such a journal should be public. This is about integrity, not about “showing off.”

Yes, it would be nice if a potential employer would read and appreciate my stuff enough to hire me. But I realized a long time ago, and I’m only being a little facetious when I say this, that the best way to keep a secret is to post it on my web site. I am under absolutely no illusions about how much readership I’m getting. Especially when I see the comments on what I do post on Facebook, making it ever so clear that, for the most part, even my friends do not read it.

I would also like to take on the role of a public intellectual. Within academia, peer review has come in for some fairly withering criticism. The idea of a quality control is good, but what we often see instead is protection for established ideas and resistance to new ones. In addition, peer reviewed journals are frightfully expensive. If we are serious about improving the condition of life on earth, we should be making our work and our ideas more available, rather than hiding them in journals that even many university libraries can’t afford to subscribe to or, alternatively, that charge authors hundreds of dollars for a publication credit (the latter being needed to advance one’s career).[3]

But what is increasingly clear is that my present social network engagement is too often exposing me to a chosen and preferred ignorance. This is not merely ignorance in a mild sense of not having been exposed to information, which I am happy to help with when and where I can, but ignorance of a willful sort, that devalues higher education, that pretends to revere science but in fact reduces it to ideology, and refuses to acknowledge the serious limitations of scientific method, or its colonial implications.[4] My friends, you may recall, are largely those who have done well in high technology and those whose dreams lie in science fiction. They are utterly unprepared to confront my reality, the reality of colonized people around the world, or the reality of poverty and despair. And much too often, they have appeared not to care enough to even try to bridge the gap.

  1. [1]Betsy Stevens, “What communication skills do employers want? Silicon valley recruiters respond,” AllBusiness.com, February 23, 2005, http://www.allbusiness.com/sector-56-administrative-support/administrative/1189004-1.html; Leslie Stevens-Huffman, “Wanted: Problem-Solving and Communications Skills,” Dice.com, February 23, 2011, http://resources.dice.com/2011/12/16/problem-solving-hiring/; Martha C. White, “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired,” Time, November 10, 2013, http://business.time.com/2013/11/10/the-real-reason-new-college-grads-cant-get-hired/
  2. [2]Colin Robson, Real World Research, 3rd ed. (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley and Sons, 2011).
  3. [3]Paul Basken, “Critics Say Sting on Open-Access Journals Misses Larger Point,” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 4, 2013, https://chronicle.com/blogs/percolator/critics-say-sting-on-open-access-journals-misses-larger-point/33559; John Bohannon, “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” Science 342, no. 6154 (2013): 60-65, doi: 10.1126/science.342.6154.60, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full; Martin Eve, “Flawed sting operation singles out open access journals,” Conversation, October 4, 2013, http://theconversation.com/flawed-sting-operation-singles-out-open-access-journals-18846; Ernesto Priego, “Who’s Afraid of Open Access?” Comics Grid, October 4, 2013, http://blog.comicsgrid.com/2013/10/whos-afraid-open-access/; Curt Rice, “Open access publishing hoax: what Science magazine got wrong,” Guardian, October 4, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/oct/04/science-hoax-peer-review-open-access
  4. [4]See David Benfell, “The perils of scientism,” Not Housebroken, November 9, 2013, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=5953

2 thoughts on “Diverging paths

  • November 12, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    “The Secret” is one of the more comical things which I learned of in recent years, and it seems to be a central tennet on some of the dubious unemployment schemes here in the UK. Through wishful thinking or by cultivating an inauthentic and superficial persona, so the theory goes, you are supposed to “think yourself into a job”. As a method it’s about as effective as you might expect and in practice it’s just a way of remaining in denial about the real problems which are far bigger and more complicated than your own individual life.

    The stupidity on Facebook doesn’t surprise me. One of the reasons why I left it a couple of years ago – apart from the absurd privacy scandals – was that it came to a point at which I looked at my Facebook wall and realized that none of the contents held the slightest interest to me.

    Willful ignorance amongst people who should know better is perhaps due to normative peer pressure in which the desire to appear to be a good citizen and dwell within popular lifeworlds exceeds the desire to confront a more complex reality pehaps enduring the wrath of misunderstanding or ridicule. Life as a public intellectual on the fringes of the zeitgeist is always going to be lonely. I think that anyone above a certain level of education at some point has to wrestle with that dilemma.

    In the present era there is a great need for public intellectuals and there are more opportunitities to bypass the traditional ways in which anything other than the narrowest intellectual discourse was excluded from mainstream information channels. I think one good method of communication is via podcasts, backed up by an appropriate amount of proselytization via social media. If you can talk coherently, entertainingly and in depth about some particular topic then potentially there are quite a large number of listeners, with audio being somewhat more accessible than journals or papers.

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